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Why did Britain (unlike every other country in Europe) insist on requiring all Ukrainian refugees to obtain a visa before traveling here?

To justify the move, Home Secretary Priti Patel again highlighted the Windrush scandal as a key factor in the government’s refusal to waive visas for people fleeing Ukraine. But it’s reasoning that has puzzled immigration experts.

Major refugee charities have repeatedly called on the UK to scrap visa requirements for Ukrainian refugees, and public anger is mounting over delays in the visa process.

Explaining why Britain puts refugees through a visa application process, Patel told the BBC: “I’m pretty sure you may have reported on a previous scandal which was Windrush – because didn’t have any documents, people actually tried to take them away. Visas are important because they are documented – it gives people the right to work, to settle, to send their children to school.

Last month, Patel gave the same rationale during a debate in parliament, insisting the visas were needed because of ‘something known as the Windrush scandal’. His comments sparked angry cries in the Commons, prompting him to add: ‘They may be shouting the other side, but the process is absolutely vital in terms of vetting, notification and permission to travel, but above all for giving people status when they come to the UK to have that right to work, the right to access certain benefits and also digital verification of their status.

But the comparison is somewhat confusing. The Windrush scandal saw the government mistakenly classify thousands of people who lived legally in the UK as illegal immigrants, and some were arrested, detained or deported to countries they left as children , decades earlier. The people concerned had arrived, legally, in the UK in the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, when there was a principle of free movement between the UK and countries previously colonized by Britain. When immigration restrictions tightened in the early 1970s, not everyone received new documents, and when document controls were stepped up as part of a series of so-called anti-environment policies From 2012, many of those affected found themselves unable to prove that they had the right to live in the UK. Documents that could have helped them prove their right to be here were destroyed by the Home Office in 2010.

Most Ukrainian refugees fleeing the country travel with modern biometric passports, and if they don’t have a passport, most will have an ID card. For the few people who fled their homes without any papers, different checks could be put in place. Enver Solomon, chief executive of the Refugee Council, said the UK’s asylum system was designed to ensure that people who arrive here without papers receive documentation on arrival.

“This whole notion that visas are the only mechanism to ease the paperwork to make sure someone can stay here and doesn’t end up like the individuals in Windrush just doesn’t hold up,” he said. . “I think the government is on the back foot. Priti Patel acknowledges that she needs to apologize, and that she needs to seek justification – but that justification seems to smell of desperation.

Colin Yeo, immigration lawyer and author of Welcome to Britain: Fixing Our Broken Immigration System, was equally puzzled, commenting: “I see no reason to compare this to Windrush; it just doesn’t calculate. It looks like a complete misunderstanding of how the visa and immigration system works. If you removed the visa requirement for Ukrainians, they would be in the same position as EU nationals or US tourists coming to Britain. They would still go through passport control or be screened by an immigration officer and then might be allowed to stay as an American tourist would.

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